What the heck? Why becoming a father is so tricky, and 3 ways you can make it easier
Expectant and new fathers often feel an array of emotions such as…. excitement, love, awe and confusion all at the same time. The new dad’s role is not always clear. Before leaving the hospital, you may have gotten a quick tutorial on how to swaddle, change a diaper, and put your baby in a car seat safely. Besides that, not much else.
No one told you that your partners breasts would hurt like they do. That the mere concept of sex would be the furthest thing from your partner’s mind. That you wouldn’t be going out for a beer with your friend, Greg for months. How to best support your partner? When to step in and care for the baby? When to you speak up? When to be quiet? When to ask for what you need?
The bigger question is, of course, how can I be a supportive loving presence to both my wife and my new baby? This is no easy task. New father’s have a lot to balance and it is common to experience a range of emotions. The shift from from focusing on yourself to focusing on your partner and your baby can be hard! In some cases it is a jolting abrupt change. My quick advice is this: be patient, kind and forgiving toward yourself, your partner and your baby. The three of you are in the throws of a major life change.
Having worked with hundreds of dads over the years, I can tell you that you are not alone. Almost every new dad feels this mix of exhaustion, confusion and anxiety. Here are 3 strategies to consider in your quest to be loving and supportive.
1. Be curious about her feelings, interests, needs and wants
- Take part in birthing classes and be present in the birthing room. Be open to feedback and remember this is happening to her first and you second.
- Become a student of the pregnancy/adoption or IVF process.
- Read books, articles, and/or talk to the doctor to find out what’s going to happen and when. This shows her you care and this matters to you.
- Talk to your wife about how she is feeling.
- Have a conversation and a plan about how to deal with family visits, both in the hospital and at home. The earlier you do this the better. You may need to play the bad guy and say “no” to people you feel obligated to. Your partner’s need for rest and time off come first
- Ask her for feedback- you can ask her if what you are doing is helpful/supportive
2. Be curious about what the baby is going through
- Read up on the developmental stages
- Bond with your baby and learn how to anticipate her needs. Don’t rely on your spouse’s interpretation
- Be a student of your child- let your child teach you
3. Take an inventory of what your interests, needs and wants are
- What needs of mine have gone to the back burner?
- Can I express my desire to have sex without coercing or making my wife feel guilty for not having sex?
- Take note that sleep deprivation and stress can contribute to irritability.
- Can I revisit some of my favorite pastimes and hobbies? Make small attempts to do this, not grandiose commitments.
- Don’t assume your unmet needs, negative thoughts and emotions will burden your wife. Safe bet, she is feeling it too. Instead, ask her if she will listen to you and offer to do the same.
- Connect with other new dads and find a therapist to talk to.
John is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in supporting men and dads. His practice is in the Back Bay. You can find more information at http://johncarr.org.